The past two seasons have been difficult for Kevin Stallings' Vanderbilt squad, as the Commodores missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years now and struggled to stay competitive in the SEC behind a rash of transfers, suspensions and general upheaval.
One of the few bright spots last year was the play of freshman Damian Jones, a former Top-100 high school recruit who ended up being named to the SEC All-Rookie team. Jones was one of the youngest freshmen to play a major role for a high-major college program, only turning 19 a few months after the season ended. He easily could be going into his freshman year of college right now instead of his sophomore season, as he's younger than five of the players from last year's McDonald's All-American game.
Jones came off the bench for the first three games of the season, but ended up starting every game the rest of the way. He was unable to help Vanderbilt avoid finishing under. .500 in SEC play (and overall as well) for the second year in a row, the first time that's happened to Commodores in over a decade.
Listed at 6-10, 240 pounds, Jones has good size for a big man, to go along with a long wingspan and a solid frame that should fill out nicely in time. He is a good athlete on top of that, quick off feet, and very mobile overall, although not ridiculously explosive.
Jones saw almost half of his offensive possessions with his back to the basket last season, a significant share (certainly for a player his age) that ranked him in the top-30 players in college basketball in terms of sheer volume. He was relatively productive there, hitting 50% of his field goal attempts, as he has a nice skill-level relative to his lack of experience. Jones has solid footwork inside the paint, to go along with soft touch and the ability to finish with either hand. He doesn't have the most diverse post-arsenal at this stage and is limited somewhat by his lack of strength, but he shows flashes of ability knocking down jump-hooks and executing pretty spin moves, even throwing in the occasional turnaround jump-shot.
On the downside, Jones is an extremely poor passer, generating only 7 assists in 784 minutes, last season. His 2.4% assist percentage ranked last among all returning college players in our Top-100 prospects, and he was statistically one of the worst passers in college basketball overall. Jones' feel for the game clearly isn't the best, and he was probably thrust into a larger role than he was ready for as an 18-year old freshman, but it's important to consider what other options he had to pass to on his squad. Vanderbilt really struggled as a team to make outside shots or just score in general, which is likely reflected in Jones' passing metrics and the way opposing defenses game-planned for him.
Jones also saw a good amount of offense playing off the ball, be it as a cutter, roll-man, offensive rebounder, or floor-runner in the open court. He finishes his non-post up attempts at a very solid rate around the basket, converting 61% of his looks in these situations, thanks to his soft hands, nice touch, long arms and solid mobility.
Jones rarely stepped outside the paint offensively, only taking 12 jumpers on the season and very rarely being asked to put the ball on the floor from the perimeter. His skill-level is obviously a work in progress, as the mechanics on his jumper need work (he shoots an awkward one-handed jump-shot) and his ball-handling skills are rudimentary at best. He only converted 57% of his free throws last season, which indicates he has plenty of room to improve still as a shooter.
Defensively, Jones has excellent tools, with his solid size, length and athleticism. He's mobile enough to hedge screens on the perimeter and stay in front of smaller players, and is a major presence rotating from the weakside, blocking 2.4 shots per-40 minutes last season, seventh best in the conference.
With that said, Jones still has a long ways to go before he's ready to step on an NBA floor, as he gets pushed around quite a bit inside the paint and doesn't always offer the type of intensity, toughness or fight you hope to see from a player his size. How much of this was due to his lack of strength and experience as a freshman is something NBA teams will want to learn more about as Jones enters his sophomore year, as he clearly has the tools to be a very solid piece on this end of the floor if he improves his intensity-level and focus.
On a similar note, Jones was just an average rebounder on both ends of the court last season, often looking flat-footed as missed shots came off the rim. He needs to do a better job of boxing out and pursuing loose balls with greater toughness and intensity, even if his awareness here leaves something to be desired, something that's also reflected in his lack of assists and steals.
Jones is somewhat of a tweener, not quite big or strong enough to project as a center—the position he plays at Vanderbilt--in the NBA, but also not really showing some key skills teams like to see from power forwards, such as passing, ball-handling or perimeter shooting ability. Defensively he might actually be better suited at the power forward spot, and he appears to have the mobility to do so, so it will be interesting to see how his skill-level evolves.
Still in an early stage of his development, Jones has a lot of interesting attributes that make him a prospect NBA teams will definitely want to keep track of, even if he's a raw prospect at this stage. Vanderbilt will have a very young squad once again, particularly in the backcourt, so Jones will have to be a major factor on both ends of the floor for them to be competitive in the SEC. [Read Full Article] High School Class of 2013: Elite Prospect Scouting Reports, Part Two September 12, 2012 Jonathan Givony
-Very long wingspan
-Frame that will fill out in time
-Terrific instincts defensively
-Runs floor extremely well
-Very quick second bounce
-Goes well out of area for offensive rebounds
-Makes plays above the rim thanks to his solid leaping ability
-Capable of stepping out and knocking down a mid-range jumper
-Shot 73% from the free throw line in the EYBL
-Has no strength to establish position, but fights for space inside regardless
-Tremendous shot-blocking instincts
-Very limited offensively
-Frame might take 4-5 years to fill out
-Doesn't have the strength or footwork to play with his back to the basket
-Might struggle to defender stronger centers in college. Does not appear to be agile enough laterally to guard power forwards
-Doesn't box out on the defensive glass
Outlook: Springy big man with terrific length. Plays with very good energy and makes his presence felt regularly on the defensive end. Still a long ways away strength-wise and in terms of his offensive polish, but has excellent potential to grow into as he continues to mature physically.